Over 200 New Jersey business leaders, owners and managers expressed significant optimism.

A live “flash’ survey was co-conducted by the state Chamber of Commerce and Sovereign bank. Could this be the start of an economic turnaround?

The survey participants used hand-held devices to respond to ten questions, and responses were immediately tabulated and displayed at an Outlook Breakfast this week. The survey provided a real-time snapshot of business leaders’ views of the economy.

Seven out of ten say their companies will be in better shape over the next year, 22 percent anticipate business will hold steady, while 9 percent expect business to worsen. Fifty-five percent of respondents said their companies plan to hire in the next 12 months, while 37 percent expect to maintain staffing levels and eight percent expect to see a staffing decrease. That means 92% will either hire or stand pat.

Tom Bracken, president and CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce says, “That’s a big number. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever seen a number that strong….It’s not overwhelmingly that, ‘I’m going to hire more people,’ but there’s a higher percentage of people who thought they would hire than wouldn’t…..This is a beginning. Maybe it’s the beginning of the turnaround.”

Bracken adds, “There’s room for improvement specifically relating to the concerns about jobs, health care costs and taxes.”

31 percent of the respondents chose property taxes as the top challenge facing New Jersey. 17 percent said it is the high cost of health care. As for their companies’ biggest challenges, the respondents chose attracting customers (30 percent), retaining existing customers (19 percent) and the cost of health insurance and employee benefits (18 percent).

More than two of every three respondents (65 percent) said the New Jersey economy has improved since Governor Chris Christie took office in January 2010, while 22 percent said it has not changed and 17 percent said it has deteriorated.

Bracken explains, “The growing optimism evident in the survey reflects the efforts and the achievements of the Christie administration to make New Jersey a more business-friendly state.”